Take a moment and eyeball the cover picture on this article. Juniper Springs is seriously gorgeous. Of all the photographs I’ve taken so far on my trip, that one is my favorite. That is a straight up, non-enhanced image. The shapes, textures, and most of all, colors of Ocala National Forest are a real stunner. If you look closely under the bridge you can even see an alligator in that shot. It is also one of the few occasions where a photo almost does the live experience justice.
About the Springs
Juniper Springs Recreation Area is one of a great many natural springs in Florida where you can both go for a cool swim and experience a lot of great Florida Wildlife. Instead of the hot springs so popular in the north, these are cool springs where the water is always a refreshing 73 degrees. Furthermore, it is pretty much crystal clear provided no one is stirring up the bottom of the pools. We were here in the winter, but during summer they are coveted as a place to cool off from the oppressive heat of the day. Most of the springs will have a designated area for swimming that is largely free of alligators while the rest of the springs are closed to swimming to protect the wildlife.
Juniper Springs is located in the Ocala National Forest which is home to all manner of plants and animals native to the region. One of the large springs is reserved for swimming and wading. An old water wheel separates it from the other waters but it is still part of a natural system so the spring is home to water plants and animals. Surrounding it are lush lawns where families can host picnics. There is a store that sells treats, park souvenirs, and water gear that also acts as an information center for the springs. The Recreation area is actually run by a private concession on contract by the parks service. Unfortunately, that means even if you have a national parks pass, you will have to pay to visit.
Surrounding the springs are trails and campgrounds where you can explore the forest. Walking the trails is where we encountered most of the wildlife. Turtles, Alligators, Butterflies, and Birds were all abundant during our visit. If you are into plants there is a huge variety and with those, lots of cool bugs to check out. Calling them hikes would be a stretch, more strolls through the woods on well-established trails. Being Florida, elevation change is not something you need to worry about. Another popular thing to do is take a canoe or kayak down the Juniper Run 7 miles to the St. Johns River. It sounds like an amazing trip.
We visited a number of other springs while in Florida but Juniper was easily the most beautiful we encountered. One fun feature of the spring you are allowed to swim in is that it is populated by tiny fish that are adapted to eating the dead skin of manatees that frequent the springs. If you dip your feet into the water and hold still, they will come up and nibble at your toes ever so gently. I had a great time cooling off my tootsies and watching the fish occasionally nibble my cuticles.